The red convertible symbolizes Henry and Lyman’s youthful innocence and the freedom that comes with it. When they first see the convertible for sale, they are electrified by it—like their youth, it seems to them “alive” and alluring. They buy it almost without thinking, recklessly spending all their money and leaving barely enough to buy gas to get home. Then, they ride all over North America in it, still carefree and paying little attention to maintaining the car. When they return home, however, the car isn’t in great shape and Henry gets drafted into war—their carefree, youthful behavior, it seems, is catching up to them and coming to an end. While Henry is gone, Lyman fixes the car up and maintains it perfectly (showing his denial about the changes occurring in their lives), but Henry comes back from the war a changed man. He is now uninterested in the car, which shows his distance from the freedom, youth, and innocence it symbolizes. Lyman damages the car in an attempt to get Henry to fix it, thereby giving him a hobby and a purpose. For a while, this seems to work—Henry fixates on repairing the car and he seems in better spirits, and he even invites Lyman on a joy ride to the river once the car is fixed, which hearkens back to their carefree traveling days. However, the innocence and freedom of youth can’t be regained once lost—on that trip, Henry drowns and when Lyman cannot save him, Lyman pushes the car into the river, destroying it in the same way that his own freedom and innocence have been destroyed by his brother’s death.
The Red Convertible Quotes in The Red Convertible
I was the first one to drive a convertible on my reservation. And of course it was red, a red Olds. I owned that car along with my brother Henry Junior. We owned it together until his boots filled with water on a windy night and he bought out my share. Now Henry owns the whole car, and his younger brother Lyman (that's myself), Lyman walks everywhere he goes.
We went places in that car, me and Henry. We took off driving all one whole summer… We got up there [to Alaska] and never wanted to leave. The sun doesn't truly set there in summer, and the night is more a soft dusk. You might doze off, sometimes, but before you know it you're up again, like an animal in nature. You never feel like you have to sleep hard or put away the world. And things would grow up there.
It was so sunny that day Henry had to squint against the glare. Or maybe the camera Bonita held flashed like a mirror, blinding him, before she snapped the picture. My face is right out in the sun, big and round. But he might have drawn back, because the shadows on his face are deep as holes. There are two shadows curved like little hooks around the ends of his smile, as if to frame it and try to keep it there—that one, first smile that looked like it might have hurt his face.
The trip over there was beautiful. When everything starts changing, drying up, clearing off, you feel like your whole life is starting. Henry felt it, too. The top was down and the car hummed like a top. He'd really put it back in shape, even the tape on the seats was very carefully put down and glued back in layers. It's not that he smiled again or even joked, but his face looked to me as if it was clear, more peaceful. It looked as though he wasn't thinking of anything in particular except the bare fields and windbreaks and houses we were passing.
No sound comes from the river after the splash he makes, so I run right over. I look around. It's getting dark. I see he's halfway across the water already, and I know he didn't swim there but the current took him. It's far. I hear his voice, though, very clearly across it.
"My boots are filling," he says.
He says this in a normal voice, like he just noticed and he doesn't know what to think of it. Then he's gone. A branch comes by. Another branch. And I go in…
I walk back to the car, turn on the high beams, and drive it up the bank. I put it in first gear and then I take my foot off the clutch. I get out, close the door, and watch it plow softly into the water.